Smoking: Not Just Harmful to Your Lungs and Heart
How Cigarettes Affect Nearly Every Part of Your Body
Cigarettes’ harmful claim to fame isn’t limited to your lungs or your heart. How does smoking hurt your body? Let us take a look at the ways cigarettes attack the body and you’ll have a better idea. Smoking not only cuts lives short, but greatly decreases quality of life as well.
Most cigarettes contain around 4,000 chemicals, including “human-friendly” ones like cyanide and formaldehyde. Sixty of these chemicals are known to cause cancer. The list of smoking-related cancers keeps growing, and includes:
Heart and Blood Vessels
Blood carries cigarette poisons throughout the circulatory system. Among other effects, these poisons damage and narrow blood vessels, increasing the heart rate while decreasing the flow of oxygen to the rest of the body. These are a few of the cardiovascular conditions smoking contributes to:
- ]]>Atherosclerosis]]>—a disease causing fatty deposits in arteries
- ]]>High blood pressure]]>—increased pressure in the blood vessels
- ]]>Heart attack]]>—damage or death of heart muscle from lack of blood flow
- ]]>Congestive heart failure]]>—ineffective pumping by the heart
- ]]>Peripheral vascular disease]]>—narrowing of vessels in the legs
- ]]>Abdominal aortic aneurysm]]>—a bulge in the wall of the aorta
Chemicals in cigarettes irritate air passages and lungs. They slow—and eventually stop—the cleansing action in the lungs, so poisons can remain there. Lungs become vulnerable to problems like these:
- Coughing]]>, ]]>colds]]>, ]]>sore throats]]>, and ]]>pneumonia]]>
- ]]>Asthma]]>—airways become inflamed
- ]]>Chronic bronchitis]]>—airways produce extra mucus
- ]]>Emphysema]]>—walls between air sacs break down, slowly destroying the ability to breathe
- ]]>Lung cancer]]>—uncontrolled growth of lung cells that invade normal tissues
Bones, Joints, and Muscles
By reducing blood supply, smoking weakens both muscles and bones. It also slows the production of bone-forming cells and keeps your body from absorbing calcium. Here are some of the effects:
- Increased risk for bone fractures, which also take longer to heal
- Higher complication rate after surgeries
- Increased risk of overuse injuries, such as ]]>bursitis]]>; greater chance of ]]>sprains]]>
- Negative impact on sports performance—slower pace and shortness of breath
- Association with ]]>low back pain]]> and ]]>rheumatoid arthritis]]>—a progressive disease causing swelling in joints
Smoking hurts the digestive system, which means the body doesn’t get the nutrients it needs. Smoking does this by:
- Injuring the esophagus, allowing stomach acids to flow back (called ]]>heartburn]]>) into the esophagus, and by making stomach acids more harmful
- Increasing acidity, increasing the risk for an infection that leads to open sores in the stomach or small intestine (called ]]>peptic ulcers]]>)
- Leading to inflammation in the lining of the intestine (called ]]>Crohn’s disease]]>)
- Changing the way the liver handles drugs and alcohol
Smokers notice the change in their brains almost the minute they light up. Smoking quickly changes brain chemistry, affecting mood and often leading to addiction. Brain chemistry changes, as well as decreased blood flow, increase the risk for:
Need to hear more? Smokers are at increased risk of developing the most common type of ]]>diabetes]]>. These are a few of smoking’s other effects:
- Reduced sense of smell and taste
- Premature skin aging from reduced blood flow and vitamins
- Increased risk for gum disease
- Increased risk for cloudy lens in the eye (called ]]>cataract]]> )—a leading cause of blindness
- Increased risk for ]]>impotence]]>, ]]>infertility]]>, and problems during pregnancy and delivery
- In babies of smoking mothers—increased risk for low birth weight, reduced lung function, and ]]>sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)]]>
- ]]>Menopause]]> at an earlier age; increased number of menopausal symptoms
And Now for the Good News
The benefits of quitting begin almost immediately. Heart rate drops within minutes. Circulation and breathing improve within months. And, among other improvements, your risk of ]]>stroke]]> much lower after five years of quiting. Although it’s best to quit when you’re younger, you can benefit at any age.
American Cancer Society
American Lung Association
National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC)
Bjartveit K and Tverdal A. Health consequences of smoking 1–4 cigarettes per day. Tobacco Control . 2005;14:315-320.
Questions about smoking, tobacco, and health: is there a safe way to smoke? American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/docroot/PED/content/PED_10_2x_Questions_About_Smoking_Tobacco_and_Health.asp . Accessed September 30, 2005.
Smoking. American Diabetes Association website. Available at: http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/prevention/checkup-america/smoking.html. Accessed November 12, 2010.
Smoking among older adults fact sheet. American Lung Association website. Available at: http://www.lungusa.org/site/pp.asp?c=dvLUK9O0E&b=39862 . Accessed September 30, 2005.
Smoking and musculoskeletal health. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/fact/thr_report.cfm?Thread_ID=240&topcategory=Wellness. Accessed September 30, 2005.
Smoking and your digestive system. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC) website. Available at: http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/smoking/index.htm. Accessed September 30, 2005.
Smoking: how does it cause wrinkles? Mayo Clinic website. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/invoke.cfm?id=AN00644 . Accessed September 30, 2005.
Smoking: Steps to Help You Break the Habit. American Family Physicians. Family Doctor.org website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/common/addictions/tobacco/161.html. Updated December 2009. Accessed November 12, 2010.
Women and smoking: a report of the surgeon general—2001. CDC website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/sgr/sgr_forwomen/ataglance.htm . Accessed September 30, 2005.
Last reviewed November 2009 by ]]>Brian Randall, MD]]>
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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